Ever since I’d heard about them (when I was working at IVP the series was mooted, but I left about six months before they were published) – and friends who went to New Wine this summer will know more about their promise than any other – I’ve been excited about the MORE books. Distilling biblical teaching and serious Jesus-following into some relatively small, short and readable books, these follow in the footsteps of the invitation cast by Simon Ponsonby in More: How You Can Have More of The Spirit When You Already Have Everything in Christ. These are books for busy people who want to get more Bible reflection into their lives – and Calvin Samuel, the present Principal of LST, has written a belter in MORE: Distinct.
Firstly, Calvin recovers the language of holiness. Calvin notes that ‘holiness’ and ‘sin’ are difficult words to wrap our heads around – and so he reframes them according to deep biblical images, and some serious (if occasionally light-hearted) engagement with key themes in Leviticus and other holiness texts. In ten short chapters, we walk through a range of ways of understanding and unpacking holiness – rooted in the character of God, transforming us through relationship with God and others, and ultimately seen in and embodied by Jesus. Theologically speaking, this book is a fascinating blend that echoes IVP’s historic commitment to biblical orthodoxy, whilst also modelling an openness to various influences (filtered through the lens of the ultimate authority of Scripture). One thing that I found quite interesting (taking a similar-is approach in my ebook) was Calvin’s approach to the Lord’s Supper, echoing his Methodist ecclesiology and theology, which will raise eyebrows in some quarters. That aside, the entire book is rigorously biblical – blending occasional useful word studies with exegesis of key passages, and nodding at what some serious scholars have to say.
Second, this book is well designed. The ten chapters all begin with ‘Distinctly’, echoing the authors charge for Christians to be Distinct in their approach to holiness in the world. As Calvin puts it so beautifully in ‘Distinctly Divine’, “Holiness cannot be achieved through our behaviour. If holiness is who God is, then it is similarly our identity and belonging which enable us to be holy, rather than what we do. Our behaviour stems from who and whose we are“. This is a readable book – packing some serious meat into short chapters, whilst I read it in one long train journey, it could equally (And profitably) be read in ten chunks, perhaps meditating further on the passages of Scripture that frame what Calvin is saying. Further, rooting each passage in scripture is done in such an effective way in terms of the writing, but also an affective and deliberately ‘front and centre’ way in the design of the chapters. For example:
Thirdly, this book reads beautifully. Calvin writes in a way that draws the reader in, respecting their intelligence whilst wearing his own (deep!) learning lightly. I enjoyed some of his cultural references – a few of them were a bit too recent for my dinosaur-self to get – but none of them dominate the flow of his argument and his invitation to marvel at the holiness of God and be inspired to ‘be holy as I am holy‘, as God invites us to be through his word. MORE: Distinct is a beautifully written book, that reads something like a piece of music – building to a crescendo and constantly inviting the reader deeper into who God is and the plans He has for us.
So, then, who is this book for? I think there are two key audiences for this book. Given the design, length, and writing style, it is clearly aimed at those of around 15-30, and I would commend it to any readers of this blog who pastor folk in that age bracket (and, like myself, any readers of this blog who are in that age bracket!). Second, in a culture where holiness and sin are radical concepts once again, this book is an excellent little primer on the subject: rooted in God’s word, glorifying and marvelling at God’s goodness, and challengingly radical in its invitation to readers to pursue holiness. My inner nerd now wants to go and read more technical things that I think Calvin has written – and I’m also excited to see what else is coming from the MORE books.
Disclaimer – I received a copy of this book for free to review, I hope that doesn’t cloud your reflections. Having met the author and editor a few times, I certainly would have pushed back pretty hard if I didn’t like it.